Wed, May 10, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Yates told White House Flynn a blackmail risk

‘TOTAL HOAX’:Donald Trump criticized the congressional probes as a waste of taxpayers’ money and alleged that the former attorney general leaked information

AFP, WASHINGTON

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates, left, and former director of national intelligence James Clapper, right, arrive to testify before a Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing in Washington on Russian interference in last year’s election.

Photo: Reuters

The White House was warned in January that US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail, a top former official told lawmakers pm Monday, as the issue of the president’s ties to Moscow returned to the spotlight.

Trump hit back by dismissing suggestions that his team colluded with Russia as a “hoax,” and calling the congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the US election a taxpayer-funded “charade.”

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates, an appointee of former US president Barack Obama sacked by Trump early in his presidency, took the stand alongside former director of national intelligence James Clapper during Monday’s hotly anticipated three-hour hearing of the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

Yates confirmed reports that she had told the White House, six days into Trump’s administration, that Flynn, a former military intelligence chief, had not been honest with US Vice President Mike Pence about his discussions with the Russian ambassador to Washington, leaving him vulnerable to leverage from Moscow.

It nevertheless took 18 days before Trump, pressed by Pence and others, dismissed the retired army lieutenant general, who had advised him on security issues throughout his presidential campaign last year.

“We believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians,” Yates told the hearing in her first public comments on the scandal, which has dogged the opening months of Trump’s presidency.

“This was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information. And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians,” she said.

Yates, who was fired on Jan. 30 after defying Trump over his contested travel ban, did not say what Flynn discussed with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a number of phone calls in December last year that were secretly monitored by US intelligence.

Pence said in January that Flynn denied those calls involved sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama administration in response to its election meddling.

Trump has repeatedly branded the issue of Russian interference “fake news,” despite the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself was behind the meddling.

In a series of tweets Monday evening, Trump doubled down on that stance.

“The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” Trump said one post, while in a second, the president targeted Yates — claiming she had “said nothing but old news!” after earlier alleging that she leaked classified information.

Known as a tough and independent prosecutor, Yates has been a target of Trump’s ire since her refusal in January to support his controversial immigration ban on nationals from several Muslim-majority nations.

Yates’ comments came after former Obama officials revealed that the outgoing president himself firmly warned Trump against naming Flynn as national security adviser, just two days after the Nov. 8 election.

Obama had cautioned against Flynn, whom he fired in 2014 as head of the defense intelligence agency, due to his poor record in administration and personnel management.

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